Polk County used its 21-7 win over Madison in late September to kickstart a perfect run through the Western Highlands Conference.
Now the Wolverines have an opportunity to begin their playoff push in the same manner.
When the state 2A football playoffs open Friday, Polk County will once again see the Patriots across the field as Madison makes its second trip this season to The Little Big House, facing the Wolverines in an opening-round matchup set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. For those unable to attend, the game can be heard via Teamline.
For Polk County (8-3), the fifth seed in the 2A West bracket, Friday’s playoff opener will be a chance to continue a magical winning streak that has now reached eight games. In fashioning an undefeated conference record for the first time, the Wolverines have done exactly what head coach Bruce Ollis expected even before the season began.
“I felt all summer long we would have an opportunity to win a title,” Ollis said. “Our players hung to that notion and accomplished one of our huge goals. Starting slow (0-3) probably strengthened our resolve. We learned early and often how to deal with adversity and injuries. Other players got playing time and increased our depth, which was positive.”
Just ask Madison how important depth can be. The Patriots have been riddled with injuries all season, with senior quarterback Tyler Rogers missing large chunks of the season, including the first meeting with Polk County, with leg injuries. He did return to action in last week’s 50-33 loss to Mountain Heritage and is expected to play Friday. All-area defensive lineman Derrick English missed the entire second half of the season with a leg injury. And so on.
The result has been a 6-5 season that few saw coming for the Patriots, who reached the 2A Western Regional final a year ago.
One constant in the lineup has been running back Tyler Hoffman. The 5-9, 195-pound senior has become Madison’s workhorse, averaging almost 28 carries per game while racking up more than 2,400 yards rushing. That total is one of, if not the, largest in the state. Hoffman set a school record against Owen with 334 yards rushing and recently topped the 5,000-yard mark for his career.
Hoffman’s worst game of the season? His 120-yard effort against Polk County, the only game all season in which he failed to score at least once.
“Hoffman is quite the back,” Ollis said. “We held him in check somewhat the first time. He is a very talented player and will get some yards on anyone he plays.
“Rogers still looks to be hobbled somewhat by his earlier leg injury, but his mere presence on the field is a positive for his teammates as a result of his leadership and savvy.”
That same description could be applied to Polk County senior quarterback Reece Schlabach, who has calmly guided an offense that has been difficult for anyone to slow down during the eight-game streak. Schlabach has been extremely efficient in Polk County’s option attack, and with sophomore Jamal Tanner starting the past two games at tailback, the Wolverine ground game has surged late in the season, including last week’s 411-yard effort in a 40-27 win over Hendersonville.
“Reece continues to grow more and more comfortable as our quarterback and has become a great decision maker,” Ollis said. “His ability to run option football improves with every game and puts tremendous pressure on the defense. Our play-action passing game is difficult to defend as a result of us being able to rush the ball so well.
“We have several weapons to go along with Reece – Jamal Tanner, Jordan Smith, Anthony Carson, Tyrone Miller and Matt Darden. All of these guys possess the speed to hit home runs at any time and from anywhere on the field. Our execution continues to be exceptional, which I believe builds confidence in everything we do. If you come to one of our practices, we are doing the same things now we were doing in August. Our players have become very familiar with what we are doing and as a result, perform at a very high level.”
And, yet, don’t be surprised to see Ollis reach into his offensive bag of tricks this week.
“I can’t give all of our secrets away, but normally we will have a new wrinkle or two when playoff football rolls around,” Ollis said. “Primarily, look for us to continue to do the things we do well and hopefully even improve on where we are now. We tell our players, if you’re not improving, you’re backing up. We must keep pushing forward.”